Liam O'Brien Interview
For a genre as driven by story and narrative as the RPG the work of voice actors is vitally important. Some players enjoy RPGs more for the story they tell than for their gameplay - so it's important that every character is well acted by a competent voice actor.
We've been lucky enough to chat with several of the voice actors who worked on the top Xbox 360 RPG Tales of Vesperia to find out exactly what makes these major RPG players tick. First up is Liam O'Brien, a veteran of the Tales series and War in THQ's upcoming Action RPG Darksiders.
RPGSite: Hi Liam; thanks for your time. How are you today?
Liam O’Brien: Good as I can be! I am talking to you from a much needed vacation on the east coast. I'm on the New Jersey shore at the moment.
RPGSite: While I am browsing through your IMDb profile. It is obvious that you have found success in your chosen career, but where did it all begin, first of all personally; did you always want to be a voice actor?
Liam: Well, I always wanted to be an actor to be sure. Since high school anyway, which is where the bug bit. And I had an inkling when I was in my early days of training that I'd like to get into this line of work, but had no idea how to make that happen. And I had plenty on my plate to keep me busy otherwise.
RPGSite: And professionally?
Liam: Well, I was lucky enough to hit the ground running when I got out of NYU, and started doing theatre professionally in the city, and around the country. Then at a certain point, I was doing a production of Shakespeare's R&J in Cincinatti, where I fell down into Wonderland like Alice, following the white rabbit down a strange hole in the ground.
My rabbit was a guy called Crispin Freeman, who you have doubtlessly heard a million times while watching anime. He had been working in VO for a couple years at that point, and saw that I had a real interest, so when we got back to NYC, he hooked me up with my first VO audition. I booked the gig, which lead to another, and another, snowballing into the career I enjoy today.
RPGSite: On your Wikipedia page it mentions that you are “usually cast in some of the most unusual roles, as such he tends to play characters that show signs of insanity or are complete evil geniuses” – is that a fair comment?
Liam: Uhhh... Yeah. I'm gonna go ahead and confirm that one. I have played many kinds of roles, and like to push the boundaries, but I often find myself in the role of either the psychotic or the fop. And I'll take it! It's good to work.
RPGSite: Are you attracted to that type of role in particular – and if so, should I be worried for my safety right now?
Liam: It is always fun to chew scenery. And, yes, I have your home under a surveillance feed. I'm in the white van up the block, actually.
RPGSite: We initially contacted you because you recently worked on Tales of Vesperia, which is newly released here in Europe, and in that game you voice Cumore who – surprise, surprise – is slightly unhinged. How did you go about finding his voice?
Liam: Ha! They gimme the script, I make 'a the crazy. Not sure. For most sessions, you get little prep other than what the producers and director throw at you after you show up. They explained their idea for the character, and I then threw them a couple riffs off of what they gave me. And we tweaked from there.
RPGSite: Do you think he always a little bit mad or did power go to his head?
Liam: Little 'a both?
RPGSite: And how does he rank compared to some of your other unstable alter egos?
Liam: Oh, he's low on the totem pole. Trumped by Gaara in the anime Naruto. As well as a comedic character named Fukuyama from the anime series Girls Bravo. I would break out in a sweat matching his level of nuttiness.
RPGSite: You have actually worked on several of the Tales games – which one came first?
Liam: Tales of the Omelette.
RPGSite: How do you explain your repeat appearances in the franchise – is it a case of building up a strong working relationship with the developer so that you are at the top of their list whenever there is a new game to translate, or is it a case of successfully auditioning anew each time?
Liam: I direct as well, so I've been on both sides. You want someone who is A) A good actor B) Quick on their feet, and C) someone you would want to theoretically spend 4-30 hours with. The people who do the Tales game are friends at this point.
RPGSite: The Tales games have always been very popular in Japan but we in the West have been catching on over the last few years and Namco are now looking at translating more titles in the future – is it exciting to be a part of that growth?
Liam: I count my self extremely lucky to have found a home in this playground. Working as an actor, writer, and director in animation and games is a gift. And I love it every day. Well... maybe 97% of the time. During the other 3%, I go to my happy place.
RPGSite: Besides the Tales franchise you have worked on many of role-playing games over the years. Do you enjoy working in the genre?
Liam: Love it. I am/was a huge gamer. I'm a little busy now with career + 2 kids, but RPGs were my genre of choice for a long time.
RPGSite: Are you working on any RPGs at the moment?
Liam: Right now I'm doing voice work for the game Darksiders, playing the lead role of War. Not psychotic, not a dandy. So I can do things besides going coo coo for Cocopuffs.
RPGSite: We recently went hands on with Darksiders, actually. When did you start work on the game?
Liam: My first record date was back in March. I found out the day before what I was to be working on, and had a nerd-spasm. I read a lot of the trades and game magazines, and Darksiders was on my radar long before I got cast. I just recently went in again for some touch ups, and now I’m just waiting to see it all come together, same as everyone else.
RPGSite: As one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the lead of Darksiders is traditionally more of a concept that an actual person, so what approach is being taken with the character/personality of War?
Liam: Well, I don't know what to call them exactly, but they're somewhere in the area of demigods, or divine entities of some sort. Joe Mad, the creator, and I bounced ideas back and forth. Powerful, ancient, hard. Immovable, maybe.
RPGSite: How would you describe the voice that you are using for the game?
Liam: Well, certainly deeper than my own! And I like to think of him existing since before the dawn of humanity, so I always had thoughts of Old Testament or ancient Sumeria in the back of my head. He also never gets too flapped by anything he encounters. That comes with being a harbinger of doom, I suppose.
RPGSite: Do you know how long the main story is?
Liam: Mmm, not really. All I had to go on was Joe Mad's vision during recording. There was no video, no story boards. It was all just in his head. Or if you mean game play length, I am equally in the dark.
RPGSite: As we can see from the two games mentioned above, you have worked on both Japanese and Western RPGs but do you have a preference between the two?
Liam: No! I just like to work! As long as the fate of the world is a stake, and I can either save it, or cast it into the fire, I'm a happy actor!
RPGSite: There is one title on your resume that will stand out above the others to any RPG fan, which is Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children in which you voiced Red XIII. Your role was slight, as he was short changed with just one line of dialogue, but was the cast aware of the popularity of the game that the movie serves as a sequel to and if so, did you feel any pressure?
Liam: I played the bejeezus out of FFVII. So when I got the call for Red XIII, I was excited, but a little nervous. I had no idea what a red space coyote should sound like. Me, apparently...
RPGSite: You have worked on more big name titles than I could ever hope to touch on adequately in this interview, but what are some of the main non-RPGs that we are most likely to have heard you in?
Liam: Hmm... Spiderman Web of Shadows, Mad World, several Ace Combat games. A string of zombies in Resident Evil 5. Plenty, really. But I am lucky enough to be losing track of all of them now. Knock on wood.
RPGSite: When you are working on a video game, do you see much of the product or are you locked up in the studio all day? Do you ever play them when they are released?
Liam: I play about 3 hours a week these days, which is completely unsatisfying. And I am finding now that I prefer to stay away from the games I worked on. For one thing, I know how many of them end, and second, I know what the voice actors ACTUALLY look like, and the illusion is blown for me when I see a strapping, golden locked hero who I know to be voiced by a geeky milk toast of man (certainly true of me!)
RPGSite: Before we wrap up, I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention some of your animation work. Firstly, you play a character known as Gaara of the Desert in Naruto. Now, I’m going to be completely honest with you and reveal that I don’t really know anything about Naruto except that it is popular, so could you enlighten me as to what it is all about?
Liam: Um. Ninjas. Deep friendship. And sometimes ramen. I'd elaborate, but I am actually behind on my script writing duties for that very show, and need to get to it!
RPGSite: As you just touched upon, you are also one of the English script adaptors for that series; do you enjoy that kind of work and are you looking at doing more adapting and directing in the future?
Liam: I love all three fields, and most of all, I love working in our creative sand box. It doesn't matter to me which hat I'm wearing, as long as I get to play.
RPGSite: Most recently you have appeared in Wolverine and the X-men for which you voice several characters – who would you say are your main roles in that series?
Liam: Nightcrawler and Angel. Like them both. But I was a huuuuuge Nightcrawler fan as a teenager, and getting cast in the role was surreal for me. Once a geek, always a geek.
RPGSite: And how do you think they feel about playing second fiddle to Wolverine in the title?
Liam: Nightcrawler is just happy to have time for the opera and theatre, and Warren is busy dating European models. Let Logan get punched around by the Hulk all he wants.
RPGSite: The X-Men franchise is something that has garnered quite a lot of mainstream attention in recent years. Is it exciting to be involved with something like that?
Liam: Are you kidding! It's the X-Men! Of course! And the cast has been one of my favorite ensembles to date. A lot of laughs to be had in the recording booth, which we all dubbed The Danger Room.
RPGSite: Do you have a preference between video games and animation?
RPGSite: And finally, do you still enjoy voice acting as much now as when you first started?
Liam: Probably more.
RPGSite: Liam, thank you for your time, it has been a real pleasure.
Liam: Ditto. Now it's off to the Leaf Village for me. So long!
That's all for this one - Thanks again to Liam for taking time out to chat to us and stick with us for the next in our series with the Tales voice actors!